Monthly Archives: December 2008

Tomato, Pumpkin & Broccoli Soup

When we arrived at our friend Jenny’s home for lunch one Sunday not long ago, I saw that she had made broccoli and Stilton cheese soup to serve as a first course to the parents.

It struck me then that all this time as I have tried to introduce broccoli to my family’s diet – unsuccessfully, as none of us have managed to develop a taste for it -I have never considered adding broccoli to soup. I usually just steam it to add to either salads or pasta and once in desperation even cooked it as a  subzi ( the way one makes cauliflower in India) after I ate it in this form at my sister-in-law’s home.  All those attempts having failed to endear this vegetable to us, I had resigned myself to the fact that this is one healthy vegetable our family would have to do without.

But soup with broccoli seemed like an intriguing new idea so I requested that Jenny serve some to the children too, as I wanted to see if my girls would take to this vegetable better in this form.

As it turned out, the girls didn’t exactly love it. They finished it mainly because I told them it would be impolite not to do so. But, significantly, they did not turn up their noses at it completely either, which encouraged me to think that I could probably get away with blending broccoli in to soup too, camouflaged among other vegetables.

So that is what I have done more than once since that Sunday, and the soup I made for dinner yesterday was the nicest of those recent attempts. The girls actually said that they liked it, until I spoilt it somewhat by telling them, feeling rather smug, that one of the vegetables in the soup was broccoli. Indira immediately started to look like she wasn’t pleased at being duped, and said,  “So that’s what those tiny green bits are !” in a somewhat vexed voice.

But I do believe they’ll eat it readily enough again;  they did like it sufficiently until the moment of truth.

The recipe is much the same as for Indira’s favorite vegetable soup, except that here I replace the red pepper with broccoli.


Tomato,Pumpkin & Broccoli Soup

1/2 a small head of broccoli

about 200 gms of pumpkin

1 leek

2 pods of garlic

3 medium-sized tomatoes

3 tablespoons of olive oil

salt to taste (I add about 1 and 1/2 tsps)

Separate the broccoli’s florets, then cut these  in to smaller pieces.

Peel and dice the pumpkin.

Wash and chop the tomatoes.

Discard the hard part of the leek, and finely chop the rest, after washing it carefully. Chop the garlic too.

In a pressure-cooker, warm the oil on a low heat and then add the leek and garlic. Sweat these down gently for 4-5 minutes, making sure not to let them  brown or burn.

Next, add the pumpkin and the broccoli, cover the cooker, and cook everything together for some time, turning frequently, till the vegetables start to glisten and look soft. Then add the tomatoes  and cook till the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the salt, about 500ml of water, and pressure-cook the vegetables till they are quite soft.

Blend the mixture, adding some boiled water if the soup seems too thick.

Stir in a  little unrefined brown sugar ( I added about 1 1/2-2 tsps) if the soup tastes too tart on account of the tomatoes.

A little touch of cream in each bowl is nice, too.


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Filed under Soups

Gobhi with Paanch Phoran

Cauliflower is a vegetable I end up cooking quite often.

It is one of Shri’s favorite vegetables, and one can make it in so many different ways that are all simple and quick.

The way I like it best is with the spice mixture I love – paanch phoran – and a little tomato.

This gives the subzi a slightly tangy and vaguely achari taste because of which I love to eat it with paranthas, or with the simple combination of varan and plain rice, and that is how we had it yesterday for dinner.


Gobhi with Paanch Phoran

Half a large cauliflower

1/4 tsp each of the following seeds – mustard, cumin, fenugreek, nigella, fennel

4-5 tbsps of sunflower oil

1 medium-sized (or half of a large one) tomato, chopped fine

salt to taste

1/2 tsp each of turmeric powder, coriander powder, and kashmiri red chilli powder

Divide the cauliflower in to florets, then slice each of these in to 2-3 pieces, taking care that these are neither so big that they won’t cook easily,nor so fine that they’ll end up all mushy/smashed up after cooking.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and add the 5 types of seeds (i.e. the paanch phoron) in the sequence I have suggested here .

Now add the cauliflower pieces, and turn over once to coat thoroughly with oil.

Cover the pan, and cook the vegetable for some time on medium heat, turning every few minutes so that the pieces don’t burn.

When the vegetable seems half-done, add the tomato, the turmeric and the red chilli powder, and turn all the pieces to coat them well with the tomato and the spices.

Cover the pan again and cook for some more time, turning the pieces over once in a while till the tomatoes are quite soft and the vegetable is almost cooked. Now add the salt and the coriander powder, cover again, and cook for a few more minutes till the cauliflower pieces are done.

Chopped,fresh coriander adds a nice look and flavor to this dish.

Indira and Noor relish eating this subzi with plain yoghurt and phulkas.

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Filed under Everyday Subzis

A grade that pleases

In her first term evaluation, in the part that covers the french portion of the curriculum Indira has got an A for language orale and an A+ for


I must say that is a source of some pride to me, since she is after all a trilingual child and one whose parents speak no French with her.  I do try and get her to read the occasional storybook in French that we pick up at the  local bibliotheque, but am always worried that this can’t be enough since she doesn’t even watch any television in the local language, except the Disney channel on the weekend.

So those grades, from a new teacher who is very demanding in the pace and standards she sets, have been very reassuring.

My father would have been pleased too.  He was a man who delighted in words. He loved to challenge us with little vocabulary tests at meal times, pushed us to always try and find just the right word to express a thought or idea or situation, and had a great command of the three languages he spoke – Hindi, English and Urdu.

So I like to think that he would taken pleasure in Indira’s little achievement too.

Bravo, Indira, and let’s keep reading.

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Raungi Masala(Curried Black-eyed Beans)

Noor seemed to really enjoy her dinner today. I had made raungi after a long while, and she did not seem to remember what it was called. But after a couple of spoonfuls she said, “I would love to eat raungi for dinner everyday” !! and in fact asked for a second helping ; a first with curried beans of any kind.

I can’t say I have noticed before that she likes this curry, and I was pleased to see this newly acquired taste, since until now she has always seemed happiest with varan or daal with tadka.

This is another of my mother’s recipes that I am faithful to, in that I don’t make (I think !) any variations to it. I like to go for exactly the same taste that I remember from many yummy meals of raungi eaten with hot phulkas or jeera rice, or sometimes a peas pulav.

This is how I seem to remember she cooks this curry.


Raungi Masala/Curried Black-eyed Beans

1 cup (200 ml measure) of raungi /lobia/black-eyed beans

2 medium sized onions (or 3 small ones), chopped fine

4-5 tbsp of tomato puree

1 tsp of grated ginger

1 tsp of grated garlic

1/2 tsp each of ajwain and jeera seeds

1/2 tsp of turmeric, coriander powder, and kashmiri chilli powder(use a stronger chilli powder if you like)

salt to taste (I would add about 1 tsp, and a little more)

3-4 tbsp of sunflower oil

1/2 tsp of garam masala

For garnishing1 tbsp of chopped, fresh, green coriander or 1/2 a tsp of kasuri methi

Soak the raungi overnight with the salt. The next day, pressure cook it in 4 cups of water (including the water the beans were soaked in) till all the beans are soft but not mushy i.e they should still hold their shape.

In a frying pan, heat the oil and add the jeera and ajwain. When you can smell the aroma of the jeera, add the onions and fry on moderate heat till they are quite brown. A minute or two before they reach this state, add the ginger and garlic pastes and fry these too along with the onions. Now add the tomato puree, and fry the masala again for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining spices and fry everything together till the oil starts to rise above the masala. Add this masala to the beans, stir thoroughly, and add another cup of water if the gravy seems too thick. Boil everything together for 7-8 minutes, then pressure cook again (till there are 2-3 whistles).

Take the cooker off the heat, and leave to cool. After all the presssure has been released, open the cooker and add some fresh, green coriander if you have some, or a little kasuri methi.

I often prefer this curry to rajma or chole; I feel it has as rich a taste, yet feels lighter than curries made with those other beans.

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Filed under Curries

A question of gender-Man vs. Woman

Yesterday, Indira was browsing through a book about the history of ballet and she stopped to ask what evolution means. I tried to explain that it conveys the idea of how things and people change/grow/learn. I gave her the example of pre-historic man’s evolution to our current way of life , with the discovery and learning along the way of  fire, cultivation of food plants, sheltered habitats, invention of progressively faster means of transport, and other such milestones.

All of which together, I told her, is described as the evolution of man.

To which she said, being ever quick to spot a nuance, “Why do we say ‘man’? What about girls?”

I told her that the term is generic, used to encompass all humanity. And indeed a quick google-check of the etymology of the word would indicate that ‘man’, which probably comes to us from similar words in ancient languages (manu in Sanskrit and Avestan, mannaz in proto-Germanic) did in fact mean ‘human being’ originally and only much later did it begin to mean the male gender specifically.

But I was amused by this very prompt parsing of words.Just another logical thought, or might this mean there is a small spark of feminism here ?!

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“Fantastico” Chicken Tikkas

That is how Indira described the taste of the chicken tikkas we had for lunch today.

Ever since I started to try my hand at different tikka recipes some weeks ago, I have been very glad to see that the girls  really love to eat chicken cooked in this form.

Even so  I was surprised by their protests when, in response to Indira’s question last week asking me  if I was going to buy chicken and what kind, as I was leaving for the supermarket for my weekly food shopping last week, I said yes but that maybe this time I’d bring cuts suited to a curry, for a change. Chicken curry and rice has always been such a favored meal for them that I was surprised to see they wanted to eat tikkas yet another time, though it is has been ages since I made chicken curry of any kind.

Well, I must say I am happy to indulge this current preference , since making tikkas is so much easier and quicker than cooking a typical curry.

This is the recipe for the ones I made for lunch today. Noor liked them so much she wanted me to keep the leftover portion for this evening’s gouter, but I told her that might be too early for her stomach for another round of chicken. So they are both looking forward to dinner now 🙂

Chicken Tikkas

300 gms of boneless chicken, cut in to 1 inch pieces

75 ml of yoghurt

1/2 a small onion, grated

1 tsp of ginger paste, or grated ginger

2 small pods of garlic, grated

1/2 tsp of red chilli powder (or a little more, if you like)

3/4 tsp of coriander powder

salt to taste

sunflower oil or butter to baste

Whisk the yoghurt and mix in the onion, the ginger and garlic, the two spices, and the salt. Turn the chicken pieces in this marinade so that they are covered thoroughly in it, then leave in the refrigerator for about 12-24 hours.

Take the chicken out and leave it at room temperature for 10 minutes before grilling.

Pre-heat the grill, for 7-8 minutes, to 24odegreesC . In the meanwhile, take the chicken pieces out, shaking off any excess marinade and put them on skewers, leaving a little space between the pieces. Grill at the top of the oven till well cooked, turning over each skewer at least once and basting all the pieces with a little oil/butter when you turn the skewers.

Squeeze lime juice on to the tikkas before eating.  Sliced onions go well with them too, if you have a taste for these.

These simple tikkas are pretty versatile – they are great finger food and so make an excellent starter; they can be used as fillers for a roti wrap, tossed with a little lime juice flavored salad;  or one could serve them with a salad as a first course.

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Filed under Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

Choti/Hari Elaichi(Green Cardamom)

Before I started reading about cardamom in general and black cardamom in particular (a spice I use a lot and about which I posted some days back) I did not think much of green cardamom in that I never considered seriously that it might have significant benefits of its own to offer. I thought of it as the lesser variety of cardamom, used primarily for its aromatic flavor, in Indian cuisine-  in desserts such as gajar ka halwa, kheer and in the boiled tea that is drunk across so many parts of the Indian subcontinent. This spice contributes a very pleasant, almost sweet flavor; and my mother therefore even adds it sometimes to the masala that is the base for vegetable dishes such as baigan ka bharta and palak-aloo or palak-paneer, where the vegetable can often lack natural sweetness and in fact can even on occasion be faintly bitter or coarse to taste.

But it turned out that this green variety of cardamom is thought to offer lots of benefits too, and perhaps this is another reason why it is used so widely.

Green Cardamom (botanical name Elettaria Cardamomum) is the common name for the Elettaria genus of the zingiberaceae(ginger) family of plants. The Sanskrit name is Ela (“elaichi” in hindi) , in Arabic it is called al-hayl , and the Persian name is hel. Grown across South and South East Asia,  it is one of the most expensive spices by weight.

Although India is the largest producer of cardamom, only a small share of the Indian production is exported because of the large domestic demand. The main exporting country today of this spice is in fact Guatemala, where cardamom cultivation was introduced less than a century ago and where all the cardamom grown is exported.

It is a common ingredient in baking in north European cuisines, and it is used to flavor coffee and tea in the Middle East. In fact despite its widespread use in South Asia and Iran, 60% of the world production of cardamom is exported to countries in the Middle East and Africa that have people of Arab ethnicity, where apart from its popular use for flavoring coffee it is also added to spice mixtures such as baharat, ras el hanout and berbere.

South East Asian cuisine also uses varieties of cardamom – Siam cardamom and round or Java cardamom – which are related to but distinct from that used in India.

In India’s Ayurvedic system of medicine, this spice is believed to be very effective in the treatment of a range of conditions- most notably congestion, throat ailments , bronchitis, laryngitis, and digestive disorders such as indigestion,heartburn and flatulence, as well as infections of the teeth and gums and skin and urinary complaints.

Apparently cardamom derives its properties from the presence of a powerful phytochemical called cineole in its essential oil.

Laboratory studies on animals have shown extracts from this essential oil to have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.

Green cardamom, like the black variety, is best stored as pods because the seeds , once exposed to air, lose their flavor quite quickly.

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Filed under Exploring the Spice Shelf

A seven year old voice of reason

After the unsettling,upsetting, horrible events of last week in Mumbai, a conversation with Indira this weekend really lifted my heart.

On Sunday afternoon, she was reading aloud a story to me from her French reading practice book for this week when she stopped, and looking puzzled, said,  “What’s a temple?”  This startled me, but only for a few seconds.

She has never been inside a temple – there aren’t any in this part of France nor have we ever taken her to one during our holidays in India – and Shri and I are not the practicing kind of Hindus who have talked much about religion, or any associated rituals or traditions, to the girls, though they do know their Gayatri mantra and about Ganeshji.

I was not too surprised, therefore, that temples are a concept she does not understand very clearly. She’s only ever seen one in picture books, on the page showing different places of worship, and had probably forgotten all about it.

So I explained again that it is a place for prayer, like a church, since she has seen more than one of those here. This then led to us talking about Christmas (very much on her mind now that she has finished writing an elaborate letter to Pere Noel which begins with her expressing much appreciation for his yearly efforts and thoughtfulness in bringing so many gifts for people everywhere, and ends with a long list of requests for presents for her and Noor for this Christmas)  and how it celebrates the birth of Jesus.

Since we were on the subject anyway, I quickly took her again through the periodic, cursory discussion I have with her about how different people pray to differently-named Gods, and that this is what gives rise to the fact of different religions and places of worship.

This is a discussion I tend to be chary of. I suppose I am uncertain how much detail to go into or withhold, to strike the balance between making her aware of the facts that I think one should learn as one grows up so as not to be clueless about different ways of being, without leading her to see them as differences that matter.

I guess the recent trouble in Mumbai was still very much on my mind because while we talked, I mentioned that unfortunately our differences of faith can sometimes lead to argument and fights.

And she said, “Well, I’ll just pray to all the Gods”.

That was such a “Mais voila!! ” moment for me.  I told her that was really just the perfect approach, IMO, and we did a high-five to acknowledge the simplicity and rightness of that solution.

There is something else she once said,about a year ago when we talked about the same subject, which has stayed with me – “Since they are all Gods, then wherever they live surely they must all be friends?”

I remember thinking that this was just such a logical idea.

So what about us, then? Why can’t we stop fighting and killing each other?

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